Chief Bolaji Ayorinde, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, in this interview with FOLUSO OGUNMODEDE, bares his mind on restructured Nigeria, roles of lawyers in governance, three years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war, justice system and sundry issues
What are your thoughts on restructuring?
I am a strong advocate of restructuring. It can only lead to a better deal for our people.
I think that there has to be a reset of our minds. First, we should believe we own our resources, so that public property is given very strong protection by the people. Public property and the public wealth should not be seen as government’s property but to the people, that is the beginning of restructuring. Then of course, we have reached a situation in the country that the federal structure must be truly federal. There are too many items on the exclusive list and most of them should be ceded to the state.
For example, I see no reason why we can’t have state police. Other items like stamp duties, taxation, personal loan issue, business registration, broadcasting, library services, legislation on power distribution and generation; and so many others should be exclusive to the state.
Concurrently, I would also like to see a strong Local Government System. Restructuring does not mean separation. We need to make the Federation workable for all.
Vote-buying, money politics and other forms of electoral malpractices were hallmarks of past elections in the country. How can this be curbed ahead of next year’s general election?
The reports coming out of Ekiti is very disgraceful. Blatant votes buying is a direct threat to democracy. It is a big shame that our people have been impoverished to the extent that they are prepared to sell wtheir votes for N4,000 only.
This means that a candidate is paying N1,000 for each year they would be in office, this is very sad. I blame politicians and the candidates; they owe the people a greater sense of responsibility. This madness must be checked immediately, if democracy is to survive. Campaign expenses must be strictly monitored by INEC.
We are now hearing candidates who say that they have N10 billion to spend in contesting for governorship in Oyo State. This is insane.
Such a person can only do one thing if elected, go straight to the treasury of the state to recoup his investment. We intend to contest with decent resources because; we are offering ourselves for service. It is not a do-or-die, or an intention to loot the treasury.
So, we will campaign and canvass votes on the strength of our plans, on the strength of our history of service and experience, in both private and public sectors, and on the strength of our integrity.
We do not intend to set up ATMs next to the polling units. If the authorities continue to shut their eyes and allow the scenario in Ekiti to repeat itself, then we may be saying goodbye to democracy.
How would you describe the level of discontentment in the country in view of height of political tension and echoe of disintegration are on the high side?
Inclusiveness is very fundamental in any democracy. Once you attain power and shut the opposition out and shut even members of your own party who are not part of your inner caucus, you are bound to have tension in the country.
No matter how well intentioned your policies are, they will be met by opposition because the people you govern are disconnected from you.
There is also the perception of undue favoritism and failure of government to have a uniform approach to its only objective; which is anti-corruption.
The security situation has also led to loss of confidence generally. Mind you, there is nothing personal in what I have said or what is going on in the country; it just happened that we need a total reset of our minds at this time in order to move forward as a country. In 2015 there was need for a change. In 2019 there is the need for a better change, period.
What then is your appraisal of the anti-graft war under President Muhammadu Buhari?
Corruption is in many forms. Corruption can come in the form of nepotism or favoritism. It is wrong to take undue advantage of your position.
Anybody found to have taken our common wealth should be made to face the law and go through the due process. It is corruption to condemn before trial and conviction.
The court should be given a free hand to determine cases.
Furthermore, in pursuing the anti-graft agenda, the government must intensify its work on the economy. The market indices are not good and there is capital flight.
Reform in judiciary is ongoing but there are other areas which must be fast tracked. What role would you play in this circumstance to assist justice system especially in Oyo state as Chairman, Legal Aid Council?
I have always maintained that legal aid to the indigent is a right and not a privilege. The haves must protect the have-nots. First of all, the entire justice delivery system must plug into the legal aid machinery. If we do this successfully we will clear the backlogs of awaiting trial inmates. This will decongest the courts.
I also know of several international agencies that would be willing to partner with the state to achieve these objectives.
Majorly, prison decongestion and access to justice, those are very important objectives that we must meet.
There is also a program to integrate NGOs to providing “Pro Bono”, that is free legal services, to help reduce conflict situations and also to help business startups and young entrepreneurs.
As a lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, what would you consider as priorities of government?
Our priorities will be education, Primary Health Care, agriculture and direct impact infrastructure. Oyo state can rapidly be the educational hub of Nigeria and West Africa as a whole. We have six universities; we have all the major book publishers on one street in Ibadan. We have world renowned research institutes in the State. So, Oyo State can provide the platform for an intellectual base for the country. We can leverage on this for an educational policy that will see qualitative and affordable education from kindergarten or nursery stages to post graduate levels. On health matters, we intend to revamp the primary health program as structured under the late Prof. Olikoye Ransome-Kuti and other World Bank recognized programs like the Abiye concept developed under former governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State.
These programmes with the help of the WHO will surely have direct impact on the lives of our people.
Agriculture will also be given priority, so that not only will the residents of Oyo State have sufficient food, other states of the federation will also be able to plug into the success of our agriculture.
I also mentioned direct impact development; we will avoid grandiose projects that do not have direct impact on the residents. We will encourage construction, repair and redesign of Inner City and Rural Roads rather than expend money on building roads with ten lanes and bridges that go nowhere. We hope to bring integrity into government to achieve good and responsible governance.
Why do you think lawyers must become the chief executive of states especially as you pursue a ticket on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) for next year’s governorship race in Oyo state?
First, the SDP has offered a fresh platform devoid of any baggage; it is a platform that will accommodate new ideas which we can use as a spring board into elective office.
Second, the SDP is traditionally a melting pot for progressive minded politicians.
So, if you look at the history of SDP right from the time of the late Chief MKO Abiola contested on the platform of SDP, the party is a natural home for progressive politics. We therefore welcome the opportunity.
What are your chances in view of other aspirants jostling for the party’s ticket?
We are confident in our capacity to emerge as candidate and I can assure you that unlike some other parties, the aspirants in the SDP party have a common front and approach. It is not a do-or-die. It is a contest of ideas where the eventual winner and candidate would also have benefitted from the ideas of others.
Do you believe in consensus arrangement being pushed forward to dislodge the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)?
Political alliances are very dynamic and you cannot rule out parties or candidates coming together. All politics is local, I do not subscribe to consensus just for the sake of dislodging the ruling party.
However, I strongly believe in a coalition that can form a unity government at the state level. What I subscribe to is not just a coalition of candidates or political parties, but a coalition that is determined to berth good governance and responsible government. I subscribe to a coalition that accommodates all the stakeholders and promotes inclusiveness.
How would your leadership foster unity and patriotism if you become governor of Oyo state next year?
First of all, we have to be inspired. We can all agree to have a beautiful state that is unique. We can decide to have a place where the welfare of all residents of the state is paramount. I have always advocated a unity administration at the state level where every shade of opinion is taken into consideration and this can be done. The days of an emperor Governor is gone and they should be gone forever.
A governor is an administrator and only the leader of the team and he is just first among equals. Therefore, if you have this approach there is bound to be unity and all the political parties can be accommodated in the governance structure of the state. In terms of the environment, the Local Governments would compete to improve living standards so as to attract investment in infrastructure such as Rural Housing Projects. Estate Developers will be encouraged to build estates even outside urban areas.
We would set up policies to work with financial institutions that would assist first time home buyers and young people who will let and buy. There is a lot to do out there.
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